LONDON — Shoes and Instagram seem to go together like peanut butter and jam.

Claudia Shishova, manager of brand and digital marketing at Dubai’s Level Shoe District, and Alessandra Lanvin, founder and designer of Aperlaï, discussed the power of social media to build brands and communities of fans for retailers.

The footwear gurus delved into how a retailer can help build the profiles of brands in new markets by engaging consumers through digital content and offline events, and thus increase sales; along with the dangers of sharing too much of the creative process.

Shishova said that one of the biggest challenges facing Level Shoe District when it opened four years ago was that is was a completely new brand. “What we knew was that the community of people obsessed with shoes was huge, especially in the Middle East. With some of the national dresses, the shoes are the only piece of clothing that can show, and show creativity with the way people dress. But there was no platform for them to engage, to express their love of shoes, to feel part of the community,” she explained. “So the idea with Level was to create that platform, that playground where people could not just find like-minded people, but be inspired, learn new things about shoe culture and meet designers physically.”

Instagram has delivered the best results for the store, which now has more than 86,500 followers. “First of all, being organic, we grew our fan base the fastest, also we got the most engagement through Instagram,” she said.

“For us it was very important to first understand who the consumer is. We are situated in Dubai Mall, the most visited shopping destination in the world, so you can imagine the diversity of the customer that we have to talk to,” she said, adding that the mall had more than 80 million visitors last year, more than the amount of visitors to New York. “Though we create content which is of an international level, sometimes there will be things that could offend some people — showing the bottom of shoes or putting food with shoes. We have to be aware of cultural differences, being in the Middle East.”

Then there are the international followers from as far away as Australia, who get in touch via e-mail to purchase something they may have seen on Instagram, which they will then post, tagging the store. This global reach is a boon for the store, which plans to launch an e-commerce Web site later this year.

Shishova said that one of the store’s key calling cards is its support of emerging designers, whose promotion in social media has had a positive effect on Level’s sales.

As an example, she told how Level Shoe District, ahead of an in-store event that was live-streamed via the Periscope app, created video content for its social media channels to tell Francesco Russo’s story. This created interest in the designer so that by the time of the event “he was not just an unknown designer, he’s somebody people are looking to meet.”

Aperlaï has also benefited from Level Shoe District’s support. “It was the very first store to get the brand in the Middle East area,” said Lanvin. “They invited me over and they arranged a large number of key editors of online magazines and [local] style icons of Instagram, who came in — and the impact for my brand in the region was huge. It really raised the brand awareness because I realized that the Middle Eastern Instagram users were much more engaged than Italian or French users.” This exposure led to a rapid expansion into other outlets in the region.

Speaking generally about Instagram’s effect on her business, Lanvin said “it can be amazing,” adding that when she first launched her label in 2010 with a dramatic style of heel, called the Geisha, journalists had derided the look, causing Lanvin to question her business. “And then the magic of Miroslava Duma happened,” she said. After Duma, founder of style blog Buro 24/7, was pictured on Instagram wearing the Geisha heel at a Burberry show, and on several subsequent occasions, the shoes sold out in one week. “I even sold the press samples. After that we sold thousands of pairs of this strange heel.”

The style has since become a signature for the brand and has been recognized in museums and fashion institutes. “The great thing with Instagram is the visibility in markets where we are not present with the brand,” said Lanvin, noting that Aperlaï is not available in Brazil because of its import taxes, but she has seen Brazilian clients come to her Paris store wanting to buy a pair of shoes they have seen on Instagram.

She has found that in order to get the biggest response on Instagram, “you have to share your personal life, the life of the office, doing creative work and research.” But Instagram can pose a threat to designers who share too much in the early stages of innovation. “You have to be careful,” warned Lanvin, “otherwise people can get a bit too inspired.”

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